Columbia Neo-Confucian Seminar: Hagop Sarkissian “Experimental Philosophy and the Confucian Philosophical Tradition: A Brief History and Comparison.” Friday, September 30 @ 3:30pm

The next session of the Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies (University Seminar #567) will convene Friday, September 30, 2016 from 3:30 to 5:30pm in the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.

Hagop Sarkissian (City University of New York, Baruch College | Graduate Center) will present his paper

“Experimental Philosophy and the Confucian Philosophical Tradition: A Brief History and Comparison.”


Projects in contemporary experimental philosophy can be fruitfully divided into three broad types (Sarkissian and Nichols 2016): 1) Psychological Modeling aims to uncover the psychological mechanisms that underwrite and generate the application of concepts (such as free will and intentionality); 2) Extended Conceptual Analysis attempts to expand, verify, and strengthen traditional armchair methods by gathering data from a wider range of competent users of relevant concepts; and 3) Philosophical Restrictionism aims to curtail the ambition of traditional philosophical methods by showing that they recruit processes that are, in some way or other, unreliable. The latter two projects share in common a suspicion of traditional armchair analysis, or the reliability of methods that rely on intuition to a significant degree.

Experimental philosophy as so described is a development of the last twenty years or so—a reaction against many of the methods that gained prominence in Anglo-American philosophy departments during the last half of the 20th century. Hence, it is natural to think of experimental philosophy as a movement that has developed only at a certain time and place. In this paper, though, I argue that it is possible to see this basic dynamic—that is, the tension between intuition-driven philosophical methods on the one hand, and suspicion-driven experimentalism on the other—as expressed in a tradition far removed from the current context.

Historically, philosophers working within the Confucian tradition of Chinese thought have been divided about not only the substantive commitments of Confucian ethics, but also the proper methods of acquiring moral knowledge. Indeed, this latter division can be seen as analogous to the contemporary divide in Anglo-American analytic philosophy. A debate emerges in the classical period of Chinese thought among the Confucian thinkers Mengzi (or Mencius, ca. 4th century BCE) and Xunzi (ca. 3rd century BCE) concerning the proper role of innate knowledge or intuition on the hand, and systematic investigation on the other, in moral development. After lying dormant for several centuries, this debate re-emerges in later Neo-Confucian thinkers such as Zhu Xi (12th century CE) and Wang Yangming (15th to 16th century CE), who develop this dynamic in a sophisticated manner. I outline this debate, suggest reasons for its emergence and persistence, and assess the extent to which it is similar to (or departs from) the contemporary experimental philosophy debate.


All are welcome to attend. More information is available from the organizers: Ari Borrell , Tao JiangOn-cho Ng, or Deborah Sommer.

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